Matthew's Reviews > Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President

Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard
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's review
Dec 29, 2011

it was amazing
Read in December, 2011

Candice Millard's Destiny of the Republic manages to breath new life into a part of history many have forgotten or ignored. Centering on President Garfield's tragic shooting, and even more tragic death at the hands of his doctors, Millard fuses history with a novelist's grasp of story telling. Few remember Garfield today for any contribution he made to history, and his short tenure as president makes Garfield's contribution to the oval office problematic. Having a degree in History I was suprised about how little I knew about the fallen president. Usually when discussing the Guilded Age presidents, few are remembered, and what is usually recalled is the corruption and the failures of Reconstruction. Millard however clears away the dust and presents us with a man who ushered in change to a country that was truly in need of it. Garfield is presented as a war hero who rose from obscure poverty to become a leading politician. Initially not seeking the White House, Garfield was ushered in by a unanimous vote at the Republican convention. Not only did he inherit a country bitterly divided, but a White House that was rat invested, and unfit for human habitation. It is truly one of the greatest what ifs of history if Garfield were to survive his bullet wound, and succeed in carrying out his presidency. One of the things I love about this book is that it's not strictly a biography of Garfield, but a glimpse into the political, social, and medical climate of late 19th Century America. Millard presents the poltical atmosphere of the Garfield presidency complete with the ruthless Roscoe Conkling and befuddled Chester Arthur, to the bitter divide that still existed between North and South. Alexander Graham Bell is also brillaintly brought to life as an inventor who desperately tried to help the president while suffering his own family tragedies. So many characters are so impressively realized from Garfield's wife Lucretia, to the mad Charles Guiteau. On top of all these personal histories lies the shooting, and eventual death of Garfield. As I was reading I was literally yelling at the book asking "what are you doing?" after Garfield was shot, and the doctors in attendance completely botched his care. They fingered his wound with unsterilized objects that further brought infection to the ailing president. While Garfield is little remembered today, Millard argues that his death bridged the cap between North and South. He was viewed not just as a fallen Northern president, but as a fallen president of the United States. This was a thouroughly enjoyable read, and one I highly recommend for history buffs, and lovers of a good story!
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lexo philia The vote was not quite unanimous, but I agree that it's a great read! ;)

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